Cracked Goes Galaxy Brain: 5 Madcap Ideas About The Universe And Reality
Science has a reputation for fuddy-duddiness. But some punctuality and pedantry are necessary, lest every study devolves into an awkward fistfight that quickly ends with an accidental eye-poke or low-blow, an inhaler break, or someone getting bit—the latter not always accidentally.
Luckily, science also allows for craziness. After all, we’re only here because of a giant explosion that occurred everywhere yet also nowhere, and for no reason, during a time before time. It may have happened infinite times to create an infinite multiverse. It may be happening “now,” though “now” is relative and doesn’t really mean anything worth jack.
So kick back with a piña colada, Ecto Cooler, or IV bag full of electrolytes, and follow along with some science-wackier-than-fiction ideas about the cluster-crap we call “everything” …
Do We Have Another Planet? It May Be A 13.8-Billion-Year-Old Primordial Grapefruit 10 Times Heavier Than Earth
Some space mysteries will not be solved. Others will, but not in our lifetimes—unless you hit the lotto or go viral with a TikTok dance and buy a few of those robotic spleens. One thing that probably will be solved in our lifetime, cyborg or not, is among the most mouth-watering space mysteries: the existence and identity of Planet Nine. Is our solar menagerie hiding at least one more big planet? Or just another derelict Kmart? The unequivocal answer is maybe.
The planets of the solar system seem stagnant, as if locked into their berths since immemorial eras—they’re huge freakin’ planets! But planetary formation here and elsewhere is a cosmic hoedown of palooza proportions, with big and gassy bodies swingin’ and bumpin’ and trading places while the banjo master (gravity) fiddles up a goddamn storm.
I’m not just describing Tuesdays in Tulsa. This could have happened billions of years ago to a possible Planet Nine, or some other former planet of ours, which was flung to the fringes of the solar system or somewhere else as the other gas and ice giants do-si-doed their way closer to the Sun.
If a hidden planet exists, it’s 400-800 times farther away from the Sun than Earth. So it would trace an elongated 20,000-year orbit. Humans were still wiping themselves with their hands last time it swung around our star. And from the perspective of Planet Nine, that star (spoiler: the Sun) would appear as another anonymous point of light, with no sign of the League of Legends championships and genocides occurring around its bluish third planet. Being so far away, scientists can’t see P9, but infer it’s there because nearby objects seem to be pulled by the gravity of something hefty.
Alternatively, could Planet Nine not exist? Some say that “selection bias” is to blame, meaning that humans see what’s not there because we want to. When you disconcertingly catch your bloated reflection on a reflective surface, then suck in your gut, straighten up, re-angle, and think, “guess I don’t look so bad after all,” that’s selection bias. The argument is that this may be going on with the objects supposedly influenced by Planet Nine’s gravity.
Let’s not entertain such dismal, unexciting possibilities. A much more excellent idea is that P9 isn’t a planet but a black hole. A primordial black hole, dating to the first second of creation. As in, the first second ever. During this second or so after the Big Bang, everything was a thick and scorching Szechuan hot-pot of subatomic particles.
The especially dense pockets could have squeezed black holes into being, skipping the supernova step. An as yet unobserved primordial black hole would be wee little, about the size of a grapefruit. A grapefruit that weighs as much as ten Earths. Imagine trying to squeeze even a watermelon to the size of a grapefruit. The universe could have done that to ten Earths’ worth of watermelons. I can’t even estimate how many watermelons that would be. A thousand? A hundred? Fifty?
Also, given what I’ve seen of human nature, should such a brain-warping anomaly be discovered, spacefarers would probably use it to dump their stained couches. But while they’re out there, they could establish one of the greatest conceivable scientific instruments…
We Can Theoretically Wee Actual, Individual Aliens By Making A Solar System-Sized “Virtual Telescope”
Scientists just achieved the most amazing visual feat ever: capturing an image of Sagittarius A*, the bulldog of a black hole at the center of our Milky Way. It has the mass of 4 million Suns, packed into an infinitely tiny point. It keeps our galaxy together and is the most existentially important splotch you will see for a long time:
The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) that viewed the Sagittarius A Star is a working pair of those x-ray specs that old-timey pre-teens bought for a nickel from Superman comics. But instead of peering through beach bikinis, the EHT peered through the opaque, insanely hot cloud of broiling gas and dust at our galaxy’s center.
The EHT is actually eight telescopes situated around the world, because many telescopes far apart can function as one giant telescope. Together, they functionally produced an Earth-sized “virtual telescope.” Using such “interferometry” techniques, scientists of the present and future (and past, once MIT’s time machine stops vaporizing baboons and convicts) can link together many telescopes.
In scientific terms, the resolution of a telescope depends on “the number of wavelengths of light that can fit across the diameter of its primary mirror.” For most purposes, including internet comedy articleage, picture it this way: how many gummy bears can you fit in your mouth?
A telescope is like a beer: the bigger it is, the farther you can see out into deep space and time. But can we physically see aliens, as in, actual individual alien bodies? The surprising answer is maybe, yea, probably actually. Theoretically. But also practically. From its perch 340 miles up, the Hubble Space Telescope can already pretty much see a human.
To see a similarly sized alien, possibly covered in spewing anal orifices, on Venus or Mars, we would need telescopes with diameters of 100 miles and 163 miles, respectively. That’s the size of some of the smaller, irrelevant states. And when Jupiter is closest to us, 365 million miles away, we could image aliens on its tantalizing moons. Especially Europa, which may be a big orbiting squid party on a shell of ice.
A Europa-peeping telescope needs to be 1,550 miles across, the size of the largest (irrelevant) US state, Alaska. But remember, we already have an Earth-sized virtual telescope: the EHT, which snapped that lovely image of the Milky Way’s central b-hole. To see aliens in the nearest star system, we’d need a telescope “about the size of Earth’s orbit around the Sun.” To see farther out, we’d need solar system-sized telescopes.
Such an advance would let us peep on shapely alien species sunning themselves on their nude beaches, reproductive tentacles and cloaca glistening with green and orange sweat. Or individuals stepping out of their vapor-showers, with nary an inkling of the solar system-sized array of telescopes pointed precisely at their bathroom window many light-years away.
Since we have the EHT and it’s working grand, we can extend this strategy to space, pooping a bunch of ‘scopes at different points in the solar system to form one hell of an interlinked beast. If it fails to spot any ETs or interesting nebulae, such a device could provide the government its Orwelliest spy tool yet:
Sadly, No Telescope Can See An Anti-Universe With Backward Time Which Could Explain Dark Matter. But Math Can
Our universe obeys all sorts of symmetries, including “charge,” with most particles having antimatter counterparts. When matter and antimatter particles come together, they explode, annihilating each other as efficiently and quickly as me annihilating my parent’s dinner-party guests with suggestions of one more shot of gin.
One universal aspect that doesn’t seem to show symmetry is time. Time only flows irreversibly forward. Soon as that dark-spectacled math wiz hits an ace-high flush on the river, it’s Bargain Market Meow Mix for dinner until the next paycheck. And there’s no reversing that.
But could time also be symmetrical? One idea says yes, you bet your sweet ass. Though not in our universe. The Big Bang may have been an “exotic mirror,” which spawned two universes. Ours, and a bizarro anti-universe where time runs backward, apes came from humans, and dogs wear pants.
While this universe would feature very anticlimactic sporting events, it could also solve the mystery of dark matter through the existence of a new flavor of neutrino.
Neutrinos Will Blow Your Ass Out Of Its Mind
The ghostly little neutrinos are one of the most abundant particles in the universe, a billion times more abundant than the regular particles that make up stars, planets, your childhood dinosaurs blankie, or your adulthood dinosaurs blankie with the unintentional stain.
In addition to the Big Bang and other energetic origins, neutrinos come from nuclear reactions in stars:
A thousand trillion neutrinos, just from the Sun, are flying through your body every second at nearly the speed of light, 186,000 miles a second. They can do this because they’re basically nothing, almost massless. Actually, scientists still don’t know their exact mass. But it’s infinitesimal enough that neutrinos fly through entire planets of solid rock and metal without touching anything on their way through. Neutrinos are vastly smaller than the tiniest, somewhat relatable thing, the electron.
Neutrinos are so insubstantial that their three types combined are “less than one-millionth the mass of an electron.” To picture the size of these particles constantly violating our bodies and beloved pets, a neutrino is “10 billion, billion, billion times smaller than a grain of sand.”
Yet they may have something in common with us, from the mightiest inbred monarch to the mightiest inbred maker of “dank memes.” Neutrinos could apparently be either left-or-right-handed, based on their “spin relative to motion.” No one’s ever observed a righty neutrino, but other particle types do have righties, which is another one of those universal symmetries.
And a mirror universe could also imply the existence of right-handed neutrinos, invisible and detectable only through gravity. Could these account for the unexplained dark matter that mysteriously makes up 27% of the universe? Maybe!
This also implies a non-ejaculative origin of the universe, one which started with a dull whimper rather than a (Big) Bang. Sadly, it rules out something unbelievably cool: that the early universe grew faster than light-speed, going from less-than-atomic size to botched-ass-job-in-Venezuelasize in a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a fracto-second.
Instead, the cosmos may have just kinda fizzled into being, with particles popping up and filling space at their leisure, like coworkers reluctantly pouring into a weekend team-building retreat at a cabin up north.
Scientists will be able to test this idea and may have an answer in years rather than decades. Sure, we’ll never be able to meet our Benjamin Button doppelganger. Still, it’ll be neat to know they’re out there, vomiting your favorite dish onto a plate bite by bite, going to the bathroom backward, and watching your favorite sports teams get blown out by 30 in reverse.
An Infinite Universe Guarantees The Occurrence Of Things That Are So Unlikely It’s Literally Impossible To imagine, Comprehend, or Perceive
Infinity means that any non-zero event will occur. Infinitely. Like a typewriting monkey recreating Shakespeare’s works. First, consider how unlikely it is for a monkey even to type the word banana. The chance of any specific key being hit is 1 in 50, or however many light-up keys you need to optimally scroll through anime cat-girl galleries.
So to type the six-letter “banana,” the odds are 1/50 x 6. This comes out to less than 1 in 15 billion. Yet Shakespeare’s works have something like 3.7 million characters. Let’s take just Macbeth and letters, no punctuation. Getting 20 letters in a row is a chance of 1 in 19,928,148,895,209,409,152,340,197,376.
To type the whole thing chances are so astonishingly close to zero that it boggles the mind and inspires questions of “what even is probability.” If every proton in the universe were a monkey typing away, at 2,000 characters per minute, from the Big Bang until the death of the universe, then here are your odds:
“to have a one in a trillion chance to type out Hamlet, we would need another 10^360,641 Universes full of monkeys.” To try and picture 10^360,641, that is 10 to the power of 360,641 or a 1 with 360,641 zeros behind it.
You would need that many universes, a number so big you can’t even write it out, literally jam-packed with monkeys typing half a billion characters per year, to have a one-in-a-trillion chance of typing just Hamlet. Never mind the other millions of characters to complete the Shakespearean collection. Or the fact that these monkeys have WPM rates good enough to get you promoted to “personal secretary” at Weinstein & Sons.
Yet, in an infinite universe, this will happen. Not just once or five times, but an infinite number of times. And since the universe appears to be infinite, this forces us to ask if infinity exists, or is just a human failing to comprehend the true nature of the cosmos. Like cats running off super fast—nobody can explain why they do it, but for all we know, it could be really really important.
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